Friday, September 11, 2015

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Steve Austin Show Eps. 253/254

Roberts is Austin's guest on the latest Unleashed episode
Photo Credit:
If you're new, here's the rundown: I listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are better wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but these are the ones in my regular rotation that I feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If I can save other folks some time, I'm happy to do so.

Show: Steve Austin Show
Episode: 253 (Sept. 8, 2015)
Run Time: 1:45:23
Guest: Wade Keller (3:05)

Summary: Once again, Steve Austin is on the phone with Wade Keller to talk about SummerSlam weekend. This time they’re breaking down the NXT Women’s Championship and Samoa Joe/Baron Corbin matches. That also leads to talk about the role of announcers before Keller shares his thoughts on the NXT Championship ladder match. After a break, Austin lets Keller conduct the interview, with questions about Austin’s hair, Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman, Andy Levine, Mick Foley and the evolution of wrestling fans, Roddy Piper and Geno Hernandez, Donald Trump, referees, road life, self analysis, injuries and World Class Championship Wrestling.

Quote of the week: Austin: “Man, they gave these women time and it paid off. To me, I’d pay money to see these two ladies on the card. When I see matches like this, it really makes me fall in love with the product again, with the business again. I hate to call it a product, but it is. This is a pro wrestling match, executed to a very high degree by two badass women who really, really entertained me.”

Why you should listen: Much like how it helped Austin fall in love with wrestling again, anyone who appreciated the Sasha Banks/Bayley encounter is likely to fall in love again with that match based on Austin and Keller’s mutual enthusiasm — and more importantly get a refined understanding of the technical reasons the contest was such a tour de force. To a lesser extent, the same is true of the Joe/Corbin match. The guys also are high on Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.

Why you should skip it: Unfortunately, there’s nary a breath of Tyler Breeze, Jushin Liger or anyone else from the Brooklyn undercard. Austin hasn’t seen the ladder match, which also is disappointing. And while Keller’s question-and-answer session isn’t noticeably bad, Keller ends up covering so much familiar territory it’s only going to be of interest to newer fans of the Austin show, or those who skip the listener call-in/email episodes.

Final thoughts: Shows like this have me wondering if there’s any relation between Austin’s podcast and WWE Network viewership, because it certainly would seem Stone Cold has significant potential as a tastemaker, especially for content fans could access with a few simple mouse clicks. I’m a much bigger fan of podcast host Steve Austin than I was of the active wrestler, though I imagine there are plenty of listeners who are simply channeling Attitude Era nostalgia and have little use for his discussion of NXT performers. Regardless, anyone remotely familiar with the podcast knows what they’re getting here, but at least the first half remains well worth a listen.

• • •

Show: Steve Austin Show — Unleashed!
Episode: 254 (Sept. 10, 2015)
Run Time: 1:25:53
Guest: Jake “The Snake” Roberts (11:05)

Summary: Steve Austin sits down in person with the man he beat to become King Of The Ring in 1996. They talk about Roberts’ famous father, when Jake left the south for British Columbia, his feelings about character psychology, time spent Japan and working for Stu Hart, becoming “The Snake,” referees, the lost arts of taking a powder, cheating and bleeding, the origin of the DDT, Andre the Giant and Vince McMahon as well as Roberts’ future and the documentary chronicling his road to recovery.

Quote of the week: “When I went to Canada, all the way out there, you know, I was smoking a little pot and drinking a little beer all the damn way, that’s the way I rolled back then. I told myself, ‘You know, you’re gonna be someone completely damn different.’ So I put a little Dusty Rhodes in it — you know, a smart man knows where to steal his good stuff, ’cause there ain’t nothing new … you gotta take a little piece of this, a little piece of that and put it together — so I made up my mind that when I arrived there I wasn’t going to talk like Aurelian Smith, I was gonna talk like Jake Roberts. And Jake Roberts is a bad motherfucker.”

The real quote of the week: On his ability to work a microphone: “As much as I hate to admit it, it come from the abuse that I went through. I think that a lot of my wrestling psychology came from that. When you are tortured, manipulated, sexually abused, the list goes on and on, at a young age, you learn to read people. Because you walk in that room and you gotta know who to be scared of. You learn to play up to certain people, you learn to act. An abused kid is the greatest actor on the planet, because most of ’em you don’t even know. ’Cause they’re ashamed, and they hide it from themselves. They hide it from everybody else. So I think a lot of the BS I went through as a kid taught me how to tell a lie. I mean brother, if you like some lying, you can learn to lie. You know, I really think that. You know, and I hate that I had to go through it, I hate it for any kid. And if there’s any kids out there going through that crap, get to me. By God, I’ll come over and talk with you. I’ll sit down and we’ll get right. ’Cause you know, Steve, I go to these signings and do these movie premieres and stuff, and I’ll see some kid come through that line, man, and I’ll look at ’em. He’s going through hell, man. So that’s not a gift there, that’s a painful thing to have.”

Why you should listen: If you only listen to one episode of the Steve Austin Show, make it this one. Austin and Roberts go way back in the business, and this face-to-face conversation brings out the best in both. It’s a great opportunity to hear Roberts reflect on the lesser-known portions of his career, and even the subjects that might seem familiar from earlier interviews are fresh in this venue. They’re able to talk about Roberts’ struggles without getting too grim or preachy, can reminisce on their glory days without appearing too critical of the status quo and ultimately reveal a lot about each other to what should be a rapt audience.

Why you should skip it: There are no gory details about Roberts’ notorious substance abuse. In fact, absent a specific story about a particular infidelity, there’s little in the way of specifics about the bumpy road that make the Roberts documentary so compelling. Likewise, aside from the earliest days, there’s practically no talk of Roberts’ peak run in the WWF. If all you want to do is revisit WrestleMania III and Alice Cooper, you’re going to need a different outlet.

Final thoughts: It’s hard for me to heap enough praise on this interview. I included two quotes of the week because the first, which came fairly early in the episode, seemed to stand out easily as the best way to convey the tone and topic of the interview. But then, not far from the end, Roberts hit the audience with a short-arm clothesline with a mixture of unpredictability and authenticity that came off as a microcosm of his life and career. And yet, as is always the case with Roberts, you’re never quite sure you’re not being worked, even just a little bit.

But rest assured, this episode isn’t built on the back of Roberts revisiting his past. It’s an absolutely enthralling look at what it means to be a professional wrestler — creating a character, revealing said character through words and action, backstage politics, life on the road, the taste of success and so on, yet it never comes across as much more than two old guys having a good talk.

This episode stacks up against the best of any Art Of Wrestling interview, and it shows why this format — wrestlers chatting up peers — is far superior to the older conventions of biographies and shoot interview DVDs. This is what the imitators aim for, and even the best don’t tend to succeed to this degree, at least not often. Please, make time to listen to this interview.